You’d probably expect a PR man to say this, but one of the last things a business should do in the current climate is slash its marketing and communications budget.
Think about it. The primary role of marketing, advertising and PR is to generate new leads, convert those into new customers and add to the bottom line.
But the less visible your business is the narrower that pipeline of prospects becomes and the more you risk your revenues being eroded.
Our experience however is that most businesses view marketing and communications as an investment rather than an expense, so the old adage that marketing budgets are first against the wall come the economic downturn doesn’t necessarily ring true.
So why is communication so important? I would sum it up in a single word: reputation.
Your customers buy your product or service because of your reputation in your marketplace. And that reputation is invariably hard won having been built up over a number of years. Reputation is what your business trades on.
But you can’t take reputation for granted. You might be the best at what you do but you’ll get nowhere fast if people don’t know about it. Nor can you rest on your laurels. We all operate in a changing world within changing markets, where customers demand ever more and competitors snap at our heels.
So you should always be asking yourself whether you are communicating effectively with your customers and prospective customers, and whether the methods of communication – be it website, social media, brochure, PR – are reaching the audiences you need to reach.
Depending on your objectives, those audiences might also include other groups such as suppliers, investors or potential investors, and you should never underestimate the importance of using professional relationships and your existing networks to get your message across.
But when times are hard it is easy for owner managers to take their eye off the ball. If you’re in the midst of a cashflow crisis, for example, then marketing and communications can slide down your pecking order of priorities. But the last thing you want is for your hard earned reputation and visibility in the marketplace to wither away because things aren’t going well.
That’s why it’s important to have a communications and marketing strategy so that if your attention is diverted by other demands in the business (and it will, without question), at the very least you have a framework in place for continuing to manage your customer relationships.
It’s also important that your strategy is flexible because you will have to react to a changing landscape, economic or otherwise, and it is those businesses that can adapt that survive.
The media landscape for example continues to evolve rapidly and the growth in social media presents tremendous opportunities to communicate directly with target audiences in ways which have not been possible before.
You should also consider how to deal with threats to your reputation because perception is everything and in the days of instant communication reputations can be destroyed in minutes.
In tough economic times that threat could come in the form of lost business, poor financial performance or the need to downsize, and from our experience it’s very important that these issues are managed.
If a business fails to deal with a threat to its reputation effectively then how it is perceived in its market – whether real or not – can severely undermine confidence among customers and suppliers. And once your reputation has been undermined, it’s much harder to row back.
We have worked with businesses that have been impacted by the downturn and have credible recovery plans in place, and by communicating those plans to target audiences in a structured way they have avoided reputational damage.
Recognising these threats to reputation can be half the battle, but with the right approach a bump in the road needn’t become a full-scale crisis.
Posted by Jason - @DCAJason